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Marooned Chinese Uighurs Beg Bermuda For Help

The four were allegedly promised citizenship three years ago. Now "they are stuck in the Bermuda Triangle."

Posted on January 23, 2013, at 11:58 a.m. ET

Brennan Linsley / AP

The American lawyer for the four Chinese Uighurs who ended up in Bermuda after detention in Guantanamo Bay says they were promised citizenship in 2009 by top Bermudan officials, according to the Royal Gazette. The former premier, meanwhile, denies that any promises were made.

The lawyer, Sabin Willett, said that a series of conference calls in 2009 and meetings with premier at the time, Dr. Ewart Brown, and the government minister David Burch indicated "that the men would not be able to leave the Island for a period of at least one year after arrival, but that thereafter their status would be regularised." Willett said a promise was made to give the men Bermudian status after the first year.

The men have been occupying a strange gray area in Bermuda since their surprising arrival on the island over three years ago, never receiving citizenship but getting married to wives from abroad they met online and settling down nonetheless. They're Chinese Muslims in a tiny and homogenous country, who have had difficulty fitting in.

Last week, the Bermudian lawyer for the men wrote an open letter to the new Premier, Craig Cannonier, arguing that the four had been poorly treated by Cannonier's predecessor Dr. Ewart Brown.

"The men remain in limbo. They are stuck in the Bermuda Triangle. The authors of their misfortune have now vanished into thin air. The men are left to fend for themselves," their lawyer, Richard Horseman, wrote. The letter asked the premier to pass legislation granting the men citizenship in Bermuda.

Khalil Mamut, Abdullah Abdulqadir, Salahidin Abdulahad, and Huzaifa Parhat were detained at Guantanamo for seven years after being arrested in Pakistan. Upon their release, after it was determined that they weren't enemy combatants, they weren't able to be repatriated to China, and they wound up in Bermuda, shepherded there by their two American lawyers after a payment from the U.S. to Bermuda to take them. The Uighurs can't get citizenship unless the U.K. agrees to it, and that country hasn't been forthcoming; Bermudian citizenship would allow them to apply for U.K. and European Union citizenship.

Amnesty International put out a statement arguing that the Uighur's human rights had been violated.

"Putting ourselves in the shoes of others: Bermudians have always enjoyed travelling and to curtail that is a true curtailment of freedom," the group said. "When offering the Uighurs asylum in Bermuda, we believe the intent was to provide them with a fresh start and grant them their basic human rights under the UDHR."

The anonymous blogger behind Vexed Bermoothes, a blog in Bermuda that has been following the situation, told BuzzFeed that Brown's unpopularity among Bermudans had colored the public's view of the Uighurs: "People here are so angry at Dr. Brown and the damage he did to Bermuda during his administration — that I'm afraid a lot of frustration is transferred onto these poor Uighurs."

As of right now, there are no plans for the Uighurs to move anywhere else — and they can't travel out of Bermuda anyway.

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